Journey from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and back, via Ayuthaya
Northern Thailand is among the greatest adventure destinations on the planet and this journey shows why – hiking among hilltribes near Chiang Mai, drifting down the River Kwai in Kanchanaburi and calling in to visit friendly and colourful villages. Come along and see why this has become the benchmark for all other Intrepid Travel journeys.
Day 1: Bangkok
Sa-wat dee! Welcome to Thailand. Thailand’s bustling capital, Bangkok is famous for its tuk tuks, khlong boats and street vendors serving up delicious Thai food. Bangkok has so much to offer, perhaps take a riverboat to Chinatown and explore the crowded streets, uncover the magnificent Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, wander down the tourist mecca of Khao San Road, or indulge in some Thai massage, and tuck into some world-famous street food.
Day 2: Kanchanaburi/River Kwai
Begin the day with a river cruise down the Chao Phraya River to explore the famous ‘khlongs’ (canals) Pay a visit to Wat Pho, one of the ‘trinity’ of Bangkok temples, with a 46-metre long gold-plated Buddha reclining inside. The temple grounds are equally fascinating, filled with beautifully decorated stupas, halls, and shrines. Hop on a local bus and travel northwest to Kanchanaburi. Located where the Khwae Noi and Khwae Yai rivers converge, Kanchanaburi is home to the infamous ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’.
Day 3: Kanchanaburi
This morning you’ll get an insight into the darker side of Kanchanaburi’s history with a visit to the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery (POW Cemetery) which was one of the first museums to attempt to educate the public and keep alive the memory of the Asian and POW workers who died constructing the infamous ‘Death Railway’. Then travel to Erawan National Park, where you can explore the famous seven-level waterfall or simply swim and relax. Tonight, you can explore the rows of street vendors in town and grab a drink overlooking the River Kwai.
Day 4: Kanchanaburi
Today you’ll spend a memorable day and night floating down the Mae Glong River in a raft house. The raft house is towed by a boat, and it is your transport down the river, your lounge room for the day to sit back and enjoy the sights, and your bed for the night. This is a unique way to travel and sets the scene for pure relaxation. Spend the afternoon temple-hoping down the river, stopping off to see the cave temple of Wat Baan Tham, a Chinese temple called Wat Tham Khao Noi, and a Thai temple called Wat Tham Suea. There’s also plenty of time for card playing, reading a book, or just taking in the view down the river. Delicious Thai food will also be served on the raft house. (L, D)
Day 5: Ayuthaya
After your river adventure, you’ll disembark and travel by private minivan to Ayutthaya, via Suphanburi. You’ll see the remains and reminders of Ayutthaya’s golden age with a guided tour of the picturesque ruins and temples spread across the town. The rows of headless Buddhas at Wat Phra Mahathat, sacked by the Burmese in the 18th century, are very atmospheric, and a Buddha head surrounded by Banyan tree roots is perhaps the most photographed site in all of Ayutthaya. This evening you’ll head north to Chiang Mai on an overnight train journey, accommodated in air-conditioned sleeping berths. (B)
Day 6: Chiang Mai
The most vibrant city in northern Thailand, Chiang Mai has many famous temples and an interesting old city area. Renowned for dazzling beauty and extremely welcoming locals, the ‘Rose of the North’ will leave you spellbound. Chances are, you won’t want to leave. When you arrive in Chiang Mai, your day will be free. There are a number of optional activities for you to choose from, so you can do as much, or as little, as you like. Perhaps simply have a traditional Thai massage before heading down to the famous Chiang Mai Night Bazaar, a shopaholic’s dream. There are also many Thai cooking schools offering courses for budding chefs, sure to help you impress your friends when you return home. Or get active with a bicycle tour to discover the city and surrounding countryside from a different perspective; temples and ruins, the McCain institute for handicapped artists, and possibly a sticky rice factory are just some of the sights you may visit.
Day 7: Chiang Mai
Today is a free day for you to spend how you wish. While Chiang Mai’s markets, temples and cooking schools offer more than enough to keep visitors busy, there’s also the option of a very special outing to an Elephant Nature Park. In a country where the cruel industry of elephant riding is still big business, elephant nature parks provide a sanctuary for rescued, injured and orphaned elephants. You’ll be greeted by an expert guide, who’ll tell you stories of rescued elephants and explain the issues surrounding elephants in South-East Asia. You’ll then have a chance to feed the elephants from a viewing platform. Lunch (for you) is also provided, followed by elephant bath time. After a safety briefing you’ll be free to jump in and help out scrubbing and bathing the elephants (be sure to bring some shorts/swim gear and a change of clothing). Alternatively, just sit back and watch these wallowing creatures so clearly enjoying themselves.
While in Chiang Mai make sure to sample some delicious traditional northern Thai food. The signature dish is kao soy, yellow wheat noodles in a curry broth, traditionally served with chicken or beef.
Day 8: Doi Mae Salong
Set off by road to the Golden Triangle region, the area where Thailand meets Myanmar and Laos. Travel by public bus from Chiang Mai to Mae Chan, then transfer to a private minivan to continue onto Doi Mae Salong. The atmosphere in the charming town of Doi Mae Salong is reminiscent of a small southern Chinese village, as it was settled by former Chinese Nationalist soldiers who fled from (then) Burma in the 1960s. The region is famous for its Chinese tea traders and you can enjoy a cup of tea in a traditional Chinese tea house overlooking the mountains and tea fields. Check out the interesting markets, where you may see produce and crafts made by hilltribe people like the Akha.
Day 9: Homestay
Jump in a private minivan and visit the point of the Golden Triangle, where the Thailand, Myanmar and Laos borders meet. Stop at the border town of Mae Sai, a great place to do some souvenir shopping; full of colourful shops stacked with Chinese, Thai and Lao goods. Pay a visit to the House of Opium Museum for a deeper insight into opium culture and this area’s problematic, drug-filled past. Then you’ll begin one of the highlights of this whole trip, when you’ll spend a few of days with the locals – head to a small Thai village and stay in the home of some local friends. There will be plenty of time to experience the quiet village life before sampling a traditional northern Thai khantohk dinner. Not only that, but this evening you’ll also enjoy a traditional Thai musical performance from our local friends’ children’s band. Staying here is a true privilege and a chance to experience the real Thailand, something very few travellers are able to do. (D)
Day 10: Hilltribe Trek
Walking through hilltribe villages and meeting the locals is, for many, the highlight of this trip. Visit various villages, each with their own unique language, clothing style and belief system. After breakfast at the homestay and with a lunch pack in your bag, say bye to your hosts and take a songthaew to the Karen people village of Baan Yang Khamnu. After a short walk along the road, hike through green forest and climb through bamboo forest for just over an hour to the top of a hill. Around 50 minutes later you’ll arrive at a lovely waterfall where you’ll break for lunch. Through beautiful forest, crossing streams and climbing up a mountainside, you’ll reach the Akha village of Baan Pha Sert Nai. There are around 46 families in the village, most of whom emigrated from Myanmar around 16 years ago, and you’ll stay with one in their home near a stream with a forest view. You can join in with the local kids playing football or volleyball, or the local girls have many games they can teach you. Lend a hand to help your guide cook a delicious dinner of local food, and enjoy an early evening meal in this memorable location and experience. (B, L, D)
Day 11: Hilltribe Trek
After breakfast, chat with local women and see the handicrafts that they sell, perhaps choosing to purchase some – spending your money on community enterprises directly can help support community development. Begin your trek at 9am, with a distance of around 5-6 kilometres to be covered. It’s a bit longer than yesterday, but the scenery is stunning and, with the cover of the jungle overhead, it won’t be too hot even in the summer. For the next 80 minutes or so you’ll walk up a hill though scenic bamboo forest, then descent down to a stream where you can break and splash on some refreshingly cool water. Relax and refuel with your snacks, then continue uphill to the main trail. Here you can see a Buddha image above a well of clean holy spring water that the locals drink from. Shortly after you’ll arrive at a Lisu people village, with a beautiful view across the countryside to the village you’ll stay in. Pass tea plantations, then reach Huay Kaew Waterfall. This last section can get quite hot in the dry season, so the waterfall is perfect for cooling off. Climb uphill to the swimming area and luxuriate in the refreshing waters. Just down the road is the Akha village of Baan Khum Akha, where you’ll stay tonight. The village overlooks a majestic valley surrounded by native jungle, tea plantations and lychee farms. You’ll arrive around 2pm and, after a walk around the village, have time to relax – maybe even with a recuperating massage. Flex your cooking skills as you help the guide with dinner tonight. (B, L, D)
Day 12: Chiang Rai
Another morning trek takes you uphill though lychee fields, then downhill on a hike that’s easier going than yesterday. Take it easy as you walk through scenery of rice fields and bamboo jungle, stopping in the village of Baan Ja-Jor to take a look around and maybe say hi to the local school kids. Then it’s not too far to the end of the trek at Pha Sert Hot Springs in Mae Kok National Park. Here you’ll have lunch and can relax, swim and reward you muscles in the springs. Transfer to Chiang Rai. Chiang Mai’s ‘little sister’, Chiang Rai boasts a relaxed atmosphere, a great night market, and a variety of good restaurants. This charming city has a small-town feel and is a great place to explore on foot. (B, L)
Day 13: Chiang Mai
This morning we travel to Chiang Rai to the privately-owned Wat Rong Khun, more commonly known as the White Temple. This contemporary temple is constantly being added to and its strange design features references to Buddhist mythology, human sin and pop culture icons such as Michael Jackson, Harry Potter and Superman. We return to Chiang Mai where the rest of the day is free to explore. Maybe take a scenic, winding drive up a mountain to one of the country’s most stunning temple complexes, Doi Suthep. A 300-step naga-guarded stairway leads you to the temples, and the climb is well worth the effort. The hypnotic atmosphere of chanting Buddhist monks and sweeping views of the city make this a most memorable experience. This evening you’ll get back on the rails for an overnight train to Bangkok. (B)
Day 14: Bangkok
Arrive back in Bangkok and spend your day shopping or sightseeing before meeting again for a final night’s dinner. Being a weekend, this is a great opportunity to visit the weekend market at Chatuchak, one of the biggest and busiest markets you will ever see. Your leader can also give you other ideas of what to do – places like Jim Thompson’s House, the Grand Palace and Chinatown are all great to explore. There’s a fantastic array of transport options available for getting around this traffic-choked city and although it’s most efficient to stick to the canals, river, and Skytrain, a trip in a tuk-tuk is certainly an experience!
Day 15: Bangkok
This Beautiful Thailand adventure comes to an end today. There are no activities planned for the final day and you are able to depart the accommodation at any time.
TIN – TTSN
Images courtesy of IntrepidGroup